Fiction with Faustine: A Journey Into The World Of Moroccan Soccer: Part 7
Junior Faustine Dufka of the women's soccer team recently wrote this fictional soccer story for one of her classes. She has decided to share her piece with Husky Nation by releasing two parts a week. Read part seven below. Part eight, the final part, will be posted on July 29.
Hassan Mdaghri acquiesced as I handed him the folded piece of paper, as if forgiving me for the initial dishonesty I had employed. He slowly opened the piece of paper, which was by now a little crumpled at the edges, and started reading. I remained silent, allowing the old man the time to digest this difficult material. Once he was done reading, Hassan looked up at me. I could read both sadness and gratefulness in his eyes.
"Thank you for delivering this to me personally. You have no idea how much it means to me that you found me. I had not heard from Larbi in over two years, and when I heard about his death, I was devastated. Having this note makes the news a bit more bearable." The old man looked like wanted to keep talking, so I did not interrupt him. From the way he spoke, I could guess that he had not talked about Larbi Ben Barek with anyone. He began his narrative from the very beginning:
"Before he left for France, Larbi had promised to write on a regular basis. I was happy for him. We were all happy for him. We knew he would go far, and this was his chance. The Football Club du Ouatane was where it all started, in the dirty, dusty streets of our childhood. Even then, Larbi was unstoppable. We all wanted him on our team, but he pretended like he was just as good as everyone else. Always humble, he never showed off his talent, and even refused to wear cleats in his first club game, saying he preferred his old, tattered sandals. At first, Larbi was good about keeping in touch. He sent news regularly, updating me about his most recent accomplishments."
Hassan slowly got up from the stool and reached for a brown envelope on a shelf behind him, similar to the one I had found in Monsieur Larbi's apartment. No doubt these two men had been close friends for a long time, they even had the same taste in stationary supplies. As he sat back down, he handed me a few letters, and continued:
"I reported back to his mother, reading her the letters he sent. Larbi's father had died in an accident when he was only five years old, and his two older sisters had both married and moved away. His mother lived all alone, but she was a brave and strong woman, showing no signs of aging. However, she did not know how to read or write, so I would write the replies she patiently composed out loud, word by word, leaving me the time to remember the correct verb conjugations. He had a very successful football career in Europe, as I'm sure you've discovered. Yet he returned to Morocco frequently to visit his mother and beloved country. I have never met a man who loved his country more than Larbi did, which makes his story even more tragic."
Souad's father heard a loud knock at the door. He thought it was a bit odd that someone would visit on a Saturday evening after dinner, but still got up to answer. You never knew what news you would receive on a Saturday night! His wife and children were out; they had been invited to a party at his wife's uncle's house, or something like that--he couldn't really remember the connection. Mustapha had stayed in, exhausted from six days of work. Mostly, he didn't want to miss the football game that was on television, but he had failed to mention this to his wife, who would have disapproved of the excuse: his beloved Fath of Rabat was playing its rival, Widad of Casablanca.
"Hello, Mr. Zehria. My name is Ahmed. I am the football coach at the Lycée Al Allama Sbihi. I apologize for stopping by at this hour, but I'd like to discuss something with you, if that's alright?"
"Hello, welcome, Ahmed!" Souad's father happily invited him in, thinking it would be about one of his sons. "Please, feel free to call me Mustapha."
They settled around the kitchen table. "So, what brings you here tonight?"
"Actually, Mr. Zehria, I would like to talk to you about your daughter, Souad. She is gifted in football. I saw her play on Friday afternoon, where she scored the winning goal for the high school team."
Mustapha felt his face drop, his composure splintering into a million little pieces, reminding him of the time he had been severely punished by his mother for shattering an antique glass teacup as a young child. You could hear the obnoxious voices of the commentators in the background. Apparently, Ahmed wrongly mistook his silence as a cue to continue. Already, Mustapha was only half-listening.
"I understand that this may be difficult to hear," Ahmed went on, "but your daughter is truly talented. I would like to give her the opportunity to play for a real football team. I coach for the Association Cité Des Arts. We are funded by the city and play in a women's league across Morocco."
"During the war, Larbi returned to Casablanca and got married. However, after the war ended he was signed by another football club in France, the Racing de Paris. He was forced to leave his wife and two children behind in Morocco and rarely was allowed the opportunity to visit them. When Larbi's wife was taken by tuberculosis, his mother was left to take care of the two children, who were still young at the time. What happened to them is unknown. They may have been kidnapped on their way home from school when they were only eight and ten years old, by a band of rebel soldiers. They have not been heard of since.
"Larbi was absolutely devastated, but remained loyal to Morocco, even after it had taken both his wife and his only children away from him. He met his second wife Louisette in Paris, but they did not have any children. Only a few years after their marriage, she was taken by pneumonia and did not survive the harsh winter of 1954. Despite a life plagued by personal tragedies, Larbi was always kind, gentle, and tolerant of others. He never let the personal events in his life affect his athletic performances, which was quite admirable, considering the circumstances. But that was the kind of man he was...
"Although his professional life appeared to be a very successful one, Larbi did not see it that way. While he tried to conceal it, I knew he was hurt by the name the Spanish Press had given him: 'The Foot of God.' On the surface, this nickname appeared like a compliment of his superb goal-scoring abilities, yet it was also an insult in disguise. In Islamic culture, the foot is the lowest part of the body, the part that touches the ground. The nickname was a low blow for Larbi, as it denigrated the culture and religion he felt so strongly about. It also revealed the disdain the Spanish had for the Arab world, and, in consequence, for his presence as an Afro-Arab football player in Madrid. He suffered much abuse, both verbal and perhaps even physical, during his years playing at Atletico de Madrid."
Mr. Zehria decided to let Ahmed finish, out of courtesy. The man surely had good intentions, but like many others in contemporary society, had long forgotten about the values of tradition. That was not the case in the Zehria household.
"The challenge these women face today is similar to the one Larbi Ben Barek braved more than fifty years ago. Like him, they are using football to defy the injustices that stifle their potential for success and their struggle for recognition and identity. They inspire women across the world to fight for their rights. I think it would be a noble act to allow your daughter to play."
All of a sudden, Mustapha started listening more closely. Ben Barek had always been his idol ever since he was a teenage boy. Was this coach really comparing the actions of his only daughter to the feats of his all-time hero Larbi Ben Barek?
Mustapha tried concealing his pride, but he was glowing. Somehow, Ahmed had found his weakness. The expression on Mustapha's face must have revealed this change of heart, because Ahmed continued, ever more intently.
"From what I understand, your eldest son Mehdi is also exceptionally gifted in football. I would like to make you an offer. If you allow Souad to play for my team, I will arrange for Mehdi to receive a scholarship to attend university and play football in Marseille. I played there myself for several years and have connections."
Mustapha raised his eyebrows suspiciously; he had heard that one many times before. Every Moroccan, even in the remotest of villages, claimed he had connections. Yet the look on his interlocutor's face seemed sincere enough, and Mustapha was willing to take a chance.
"I'll let you sit on it for a few days, alright?"
Mustapha nodded, unsure how to respond. The right words weren't coming to him.
"Our next practice is on Tuesday at the Stade Chhoude, 3 o'clock. If Souad doesn't come, I will understand. But I hope you make the decision that is best for your children. Times are changing, Mr. Zehria.
"Thank you for your time. I hope to see Souad soon."
As they shook hands, Ahmed stared at him daringly. Mustapha thought this to be quite unnecessary; the decision had already been made.
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